When travelers need information about a destination, accommodations or entertainment, odds are the first thing they will do is check the internet. The wealth of information that is available after a quick Google search has made vacation planning easy for travelers but has also presented a number of challenges to hotel operators.
Even if a potential traveler has a specific hotel in mind, searching for that name online will often lead them to a multitude of destinations before the hotel’s own website is listed. The wide variety of OTAs on the market and alternative lodging options like Airbnb have made it difficult for hotels to stand out and drive traffic to their websites. This means that presenting essential information in a readable and navigable fashion is absolutely essential, as it will keep people coming back to the website.
Take a Booking-First Approach
With OTAs taking up so much of the online booking market over the years, there is an argument to be made for hotels to replicate their look and feel. Large chains like Hilton and successful OTAs like Expedia have taken similar approaches to the booking sections of their websites, with the ability to select a destination, length of stay and room specifications all from the homepage.
This emphasis on booking is important, as it gives visitors who might be looking to book a spontaneous trip an easy way to do just that. An easy, accessible option for booking will likely increase direct booking numbers, as making the booking portal the first thing people see will give them fewer things to be distracted by before they confirm their booking.
This approach to promoting bookings works well for large brands that have hotels across the country and around the world. Sites like this can even attract guests who have not made up their mind on a destination but are drawn to make a direct booking on the hotel’s website because they are fond of the brand.
Smaller independent hotels have also been prioritizing the booking portal by putting it at the top of their sites, but these properties do not have the luxury of advertising themselves as a large-scale booking option that exists in multiple markets. Small hotels are at a disadvantage when it comes to positioning themselves online and creating a well-known brand, two factors that are essential for long-term success in the modern hotel industry.
Display Positive Reviews
In many cases, these smaller properties are more dependent on websites like TripAdvisor, as good user reviews can contribute to a hotel’s reputation and truly put it on the map. A recent survey from TripAdvisor and Ipsos MORI finds that 81% of people always or frequently check online reviews before booking accommodations, an even higher rate than for restaurants or tours.
These reviews have a significant impact on the decision-making processes of most travelers, leading many hotels to prioritize not just world-class service, but also review collection. For hotels that invest time and resources to boosting their reputation online, sharing these glowing reviews with as many people as possible is a natural next step.
Displaying positive reviews right on the homepage of a hotel website gives visitors a sense of what people actually think about the property, and what a stay there will be like. While describing the experience a hotel offers in detail will help shape the visitor’s point of view, it is mostly ineffective if people do not get to see what actual guests have to say.
These reviews can be displayed by either block quotes, widgets or by embedding reviews directly from the site in question.
Be Mindful of OTA Complaints
While it’s been covered that hotels can take inspiration from OTAs and replicate the techniques that work, they would be just as wise to take note of what people do not like. One of the most despised aspects of these sites is hidden fees.
When booking through a third party, guests are often met with an unpleasant surprise on their credit card statement when they see a higher charge than they first saw online. This is understandably frustrating for travelers, and these hidden fees will only make them more hesitant to book in the future. To avoid this reputation and establish transparency, hotels need to be upfront about whatever fees are included in the final hotel bill.
Without a third-party involved, it is easier for visitors to get an idea of what the actual cost is, and what certain fees are actually for. While some hotels have gained a reputation for adding fees for anything from the safe to the coffee maker in their rooms, guests should at least be made aware of this from the start.
Showcase the Destination
Hotels can also differentiate themselves by providing destination information that OTAs do not typically offer. While it is common for booking websites to share some details about the places their hotels are located, this information is primarily there to coax travelers into booking a tour or another kind of experience while they are still on the website.
Small hotels have a particularly great opportunity to showcase the best that their destination has to offer. Focusing on nearby attractions, restaurants, bars and activities is a good starting point, as it can help show visitors that the hotel is the perfect base for your trip. Location is always a significant factor in a traveler’s decision-making process and highlighting the hotel’s surrounding area can do wonders for a guest’s perception.
On the more complex side of things, hotels have the opportunity to use emerging technology to bring the people on their website closer to the property. Virtual reality and 360-degree video has been used to give travelers a better idea of what the rooms are like before they finalize their booking.
No matter how this is done, it is important to illustrate what the hotel has to offer and to capitalize on whatever makes the property or location unique. If this is effectively communicated to guests, then hotels can expect more web traffic and, as a result, more direct bookings.